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Athyrium (ah-THEER-ee-um)

Common Name:  Lady fern, painted fern

Light:  - Part shade to full shade

Soil:  Rich, moist but well-drained

Moisture:  Average

Zones:  (3) 4 - 8


Athyrium 'Ghost'

Athyrium otophorum

Athyrium Description and Cultural Information

Athyrium filix-femina, lady fern. 18 - 36". Lady ferns have yellow-green to medium green fronds with feathery blade pairs. The upper blades are long-tapering and ascending. Plants spread slowly to form dense clumps. Under the right conditions lady ferns will continue to send up new fronds into the summer but plants go completely dormant with the first frost. There are also quite a few variations of the lady fern. Athyrium 'Dre's Dagger' has deep green fronds that criss-cross each other, coming to a narrow point with a crest at the terminal. Athyrium 'Encourage', also known as A. 'Vernoniae Cristatum', has bright green fronds are uniquely crested and tasseled. Athyrium 'Frizelliae', known as tatting fern, has arching 12 to 18" fronds made up of rolled and whorled pinnae, giving it the look of little beads strung together on each stem. Unfortunately the tatting ferns may mutate to a normal looking lady fern, often on the same branching fronds, so frequent division is sometimes necessary to keep their proper form. Zones 3 - 8.

Athyrium niponicum, Japanese painted fern. 12 - 18". These ferns are similar to lady ferns but have wine-red petioles and veins blended subtly with the soft, gray-green leaves and they tend to have a more mounding and cascading form. 'Pictum', when properly colored, still remains a very desirable fern, although many new selections have been recently introduced. Athyrium 'Red Beauty' is a selection with reddish stems but in commerce there are many green variations, possibly problems in culture or poorly colored sporelings, so purchase this one in person to get the best coloring. 'Burgundy Lace' PP#15072 has very dark burgundy tones in the spring. 'Regal Red' is an excellent clone with red veins and red tones, and is very consistent and highly recommended. 'Ghost' is a cross between the lady fern and painted fern resulting in a silvery fern that grows distinctly upright up to 3 feet tall. Athyrium 'Ocean's Fury' PP#20126 is a unique variety that is mostly upright growing, silvery, and lightly crested. Athyrium 'Godzilla' is a very large selection that is reported to grow 3 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide. Zones 4 - 8.

Athyrium otophorum, eared lady fern. 12 - 18". Athyrium otophorum has pale green fronds with purple-burgundy stems and attractive maroon crosiers when they emerge. As the season progresses they mature to a dusky gray-green but keep their reddish stems. This is a wonderful lady fern native to Japan and China that adds a subtle touch to the woodland garden and is definitely worth growing. Zones 5 - 9.

Athyrium pycnocarpon, glade fern: See Diplazium pycnocarpon

How to Grow:  Lady ferns are some of the easiest to grow. They prefer part to full shade in average to rich, moist but well-drained soil that is neutral to slightly acid. Plants can be divided and transplanted in spring and early summer, planting the crowns just below the surface. They are fairly drought tolerant but prefer some moisture for best growth.

Japanese painted ferns grow best in moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil in part to full shade. They will also tolerate average soil and some sun, as long as they remain moist. Coloration improves with a little sun, but too much sun will bleach them out completely. Plants grow slowly to form a dense clump and can be easily divided. Plant bare root plants with the crown just below the surface, lightly covered with compost.

Landscape uses:  Athyrium are at home in the woodland garden. Plant them with hostas, spring bulbs, bleeding hearts, Pulmonaria, Heuchera, and Tricyrtis. Painted ferns work well in the shaded garden in drifts, as accents, or as a border. Many landscapers use them as foundation plantings to trees and shrubs, which works well when provided enough shade and moisture.

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